January 2015 Blind Spot: REAR WINDOW (1954)

RearWindow1954I’ve been wanting to check this Alfred Hitchcock classic for ages. It seems to be unanimously loved by critics and audiences alike, which always adds a dose of curiosity to see if it would live up to its classic status.

The story centers on a wheelchair bound photographer, Jeff (James Stewart) who spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. It’s interesting that the protagonist is basically a peeping tom, which would’ve been really creepy and disturbing, but because it’s played by such a likable actor like Stewart, you can’t help but like the guy. At first he’s complaining how it’d be a chore to be confined to his apartment and not being able to go out, but after a few hours [or maybe just minutes?], he doesn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, it’s clear Jeff’s become obsessed that he doesn’t even sleep anymore, aside from the occasional dosing off in his chair.

RearWindow_JimmyStewartStewart is perfectly cast here, and his growing fixation with what he think is a murder case is quite amusing to watch. You know a guy is uncontrollably obsessed when he’d rather look out the window than make out with his stunning girlfriend, Lisa, in the shape of Grace Kelly no less. Even in a sea of ridiculously beautiful people that is Hollywood, the late actress still stands out amongst them. I’ve said in my review of To Catch A Thief that she is too beautiful it’s distracting. Well that is still true but fortunately in this movie she was given more to do than simply prance around like a model.

Here she plays a high-society fashion consultant, which is a perfect role for her and once again I’m marveling at every single thing she wears. It’s not just the clothes, though they certainly are amazing, it’s the graceful way miss Kelly wore them [pardon the pun] that made them memorable.

RearWindow_CostumeDesign

I’m shocked that the legendary costume designer Edith Head was NOT nominated for her work here. Say what?? The 1950s costumes are not only gorgeous, they’re practically iconic. I’m curious now who were the costume design nominees that year if they’re considered more worthy what Head did here.

At one of the most amusing and most action-packed scenes, whilst wearing her dainty 1950s floral dress, Lisa managed to climb a ladder up to the second floor of an apartment AND got into the unit through the window! As unbelievable as that scene was, it sure was fun to watch.

RearWindow_LisaClimbLadder

My favorite character in this movie is Jeff’s physical therapy nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter). I love how she’s always berating Jeff for sitting around snooping on people instead of marrying his girlfriend.

RearWindow_Stella_Jeff

She got the best lines and she delivered them with such dry wit:

Stella: Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.

Stella: You heard of that market crash in ’29? I predicted that.
Jeff: Oh, just how did you do that, Stella?
Stella: Oh, simple. I was nursing a director of General Motors. Kidney ailment, they said. Nerves, I said. And I asked myself, “What’s General Motors got to be nervous about?” Overproduction, I says; collapse. When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.

My favorite scenes are when the three of them – Jeff, Lisa and Stella – are all speculating and bantering about the neighbor in question. Not surprised that John Michael Hayes was nominated for an Oscar for his screenwriting work.

RearWindow_Stella_Lisa_Jeff

Jeff: Those two yellow zinnias at the end, they’re shorter now. Now since when do flowers grow shorter over the course of two weeks? Something’s buried there.
Lisa: Mrs. Thorwald!
Stella: You haven’t spent much time around cemeteries, have you? Mr. Thorwald could hardly bury his wife in plot of ground about one foot square. Unless he put her in standing on end, in which case he wouldn’t need the knives and saw.

There’s also the conversation between Jeff and his detective friend Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) who’s vehemently skeptical about Jeff’s suspicion and his murder theory.

Lt. Doyle: Jeff, you’ve got a lot to learn about homicide. Why, morons have committed murders so shrewdly that it’s taken a hundred trained police minds to catch them.

The romance isn’t all that convincing, though in this case it’s meant to be as Jeff is unsure about how he really feels about Lisa. I feel that the romance in Hitchcock films is a hit and miss. I didn’t really buy the romance between Grace Kelly & Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief either, nor between Grant & Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest. I did love the chemistry between Gregory Peck & Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound though.

RearWindow_romance

Now, the studio set where the movie was shot is practically a character in and of itself. According to IMDb trivia, the entire film was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. One thousand arc lights were used to simulate sunlight and all the apartments in the building across from Jeff’s apartment had electricity could be lived in. That’s just incredible! Right from the opening sequence, the set look like it’s custom-made for the film, but the artificial look of it is part of the charm. Both Robert Burks and Loren L. Ryder were both nominated for Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, respectively.

So what’s the verdict?

RearWindow_VoyeurismWell I’m glad to say that this was definitely an enjoyable film that’s perhaps also rewarding on repeat viewings. I love all the interesting details even in the tertiary characters and the various personalities of Jeff’s neighbors here that adds another layer of intrigue. Of course the film also packs a lot of interesting themes and commentaries about psychology, human nature and such that’s intrinsic in most of Hitchcock’s films.

What surprises me was how playful it is and overall the tone is much lighter than I expected. Considering this was billed as a mystery thriller, I was expecting a much more suspenseful and perhaps something more threatening. The only real tension was in the finale, which was also quite hilarious at the same time as [spoiler alert!] Jeff tried to blind the intruder by taking a series of photographs of him with his camera. Given that he had to change the light bulb every time he took a photo, you’d think the intruder would’ve had ample time to attack him! Raymond Burr cut an intimidating figure as Mr. Thorwald, though he barely had any lines in this movie.

Now, those aren’t quibbles so much as my observation. Naturally some things are quite dated but given the time it was made, it was perfect for that time. I think it’s more of a dark comedy with elements of mystery than a thriller, but it’s still a well-crafted and entertaining film nonetheless. This one certainly lives up to the hype and what one would consider an enduring classic.

4halfReels


2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen Rear Window? Well, what did YOU think?

Advertisements

72 thoughts on “January 2015 Blind Spot: REAR WINDOW (1954)

  1. Dark comedy is an excellent way to describe it. Stewart’s charm works very well. Playing against that charm works even better in Vertigo, though. Great review. Glad you liked it.

  2. Nicely done. I think I said before that I’m not really a fan of this. The acting is great, and the sparring dialog (and sets/costumes) are pretty on point, but the intensity is just…not there. Like, I found it so dull and unmoving and the ending, while delivering a jolt, was too little too late for me.

    And I love me some Hitchcock.

    1. You’re right the intensity just isn’t there but there are a lot of interesting aspects here that still kept me engaged. Which Hitchcock are your faves Drew? Do you like Marnie? That’s on my Blindspot this year, too.

  3. Love that you mention the fashion angle to this film as I just finished a few pieces in that film criticism book I’m working through that look at film through the lens of the styles contained within it. It’s something I never think about all that much, but it can be amazingly informative to the plot!

    As for REAR WINDOW, I’ve always called it a great “gateway drug” for Hitchcock to those who are unfamiliar with the man’s work (though clearly, you ARE familiar). The simplicity of the set-up, yet that strange perverted voyeurism make for a potent mix!

    Loved this post Ruth – here’s to more of the same in 2015!

    1. Hi Ryan! That sounds like a fascinating book that you’re reading, what’s it called? I like fashion so I often notice that in films, but I’ve seen that classic b/w dress so many times before and Edith Head’s work is always outstanding. I think there’s probably an intentional message that’s conveyed in the fashion here that I’m not getting, but perhaps someone in the fashion business might pick up on that.

      I’m actually not that familiar w/ Hitchcock works as most bloggers do, still have a lot of catching up to do. Yeah this one is definitely intriguing in its presentation!

  4. Absolutely thrilled that you enjoyed thus Ruth. It’s my favorite Hitchcock film. The set is simply amazing. And Grace Kelly? My gosh.

    I think one of the most interesting tricks is how the film points a finger at voyeurism but then engages us in a way that we become voyeurs ourselves. Loved it.

    I’m just fascinated by every aspect of the film. I actually got to see it again last year but on the big screen. What a treat.

    1. Hi Keith! I’m glad I finally saw this. Grace Kelly is just absolutely stunning isn’t she? She’s almost TOO beautiful to be taken seriously though, but maybe I should see more of her work.

      Cool that you got to see it on the big screen a second time. I wish they’d re-release it here, that’s how I got to see your other fave, Casablanca, for the first time!

        1. What??! I thought you had seen it on the big screen! It’s absolutely magnificent Keith. The only thing I hated was that Robert Osborne introduced the film and he pretty much spoiled the whole plot! He probably thought EVERYONE has seen the film. Oh well I still loved the film though, I just wish I had discovered some of the plot points on my own.

            1. It’s at a local cinema in town that was running a TCM re-release special. I kept hoping they’d do more of this type of re-release so I can catch older classics on the big screen.

              1. Wow. I’m so freaking jealous. We are starting to get a few more of these classics showing up but never anything featuring introductions etc. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Giant are showing next month.

                1. I could go w/out the intro to be honest, I just want to see the film! Oh cool, GIANT is another BlindSpot pick of mine for this year. Aren’t you doing that too? What’s the first movie you’re seeing?

                  1. Yes indeed. Giant is on my blind spot list and I hope to see it for the first time on the big screen! My January BlindSpot is “Au Hasard Balthazar”. My review for it hits Friday. I’ve already watched my February film too. I really like this BlindSpot thing so far!

                    1. Ah very cool! I’ve never heard of Au Hasard Balthazar so looking forward to your review. Btw you’re breaking the *rules* y’know, BlindSpot reviews are usually due the last Tuesday of the month 😉 He..he.. just kidding!

                    2. WHAT??? Crap! I’ve already screwed it up? That didn’t take long! 😉

                      Au Hasard Balthazar is a Robert Bresson movie that I have needed to see. Yep, a French film but not from the New Wave.

                    3. Oh no, you didn’t screw it up. That was the *rule* that Ryan set up for his Blind Spot so I was just following his lead.

                      Ah ok, sounds good! I only have one foreign film on mine which is Godard’s Breathless. I should ask you which New Wave films I should see for next year’s Blind Spot 😉

  5. Aww, great review, Ruth! I love this Hitchcock film. There’s a lot of banter and comedy in it and not as much darkness and the concept of looking at a world in front of you — such voyeurism is what makes the film outstanding. I, too, love Grace climbing around the escape stairs and knowing she is about to be caught and the mysterious Mr. Thorward is on his way over to confront Jeff, vulnerable with his leg in a cast–well, it’s great suspense. Nice job, Ruth.

    1. Thank you Cindy! I don’t mind the lighter tone, I just didn’t expect it. The voyeurism thing is definitely makes for an interesting plot. That climbing the ladder scene is hilarious, I actually laughed a lot watching this, not sure that was intentionally done but there it is. The finale is also very funny but there is a bit of tension as Thorwald going into the apartment. Oh, the last scene showing him w/ BOTH legs in the cast is a hoot!

  6. Thanks for this fine review of a fine movie.

    I liked that you called Stewart’s character a peeping Tom. In My own review I made a similar remark – about how Hitchcock made a film about voyeurism and got us to like the voyeur.

    I also made a point about how despite that most of us are taught at an early age to respect privacy, and to not to ask too many personal questions – yet there are times in our own lives that we cannot resist the impulse.

    I think I called my review – Just One Look.

    1. Thank you Mike! I think casting an immensely likable actor here is key. I mean if they were to cast someone like say, Robert Mitchum, it’d come across more sinister I think.

  7. Grace Kelly could have acted in any era and not been out of place. Easily one of the most beautiful actresses who “graced” the big screen. I didn’t really buy the romance either but the film still worked. Hitch sure created some great tension in this film. One of his classics.

    Fun fact: Grace Kelly retired from acting at only age 26 to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco.

    De Palma did a trashy 80’s homage to this film with Body Double. De Palma went on to win a Razzie for directing. LOL. The trailer is a hoot.

      1. Ted I didn’t hate Body Double but it doesn’t hold up well. It is sooooooo 80’s. I just watched the Frankie Goes To Hollywood scene. LOL. I’ll have to rewatch his 70’s Hitchcock stuff like Sisters and Obsession. Carrie, Scarface and The Untouchables are still great. De Palma’s later stuff didn’t hold up so well although I still have to see Carlito’s Way and probably The Fury.

    1. Hey Dave! Yeah there’s not many actresses as beautiful and elegant as Grace Kelly. Y’know as I was searching her photos, I just realized that Margot Robbie, the Aussie actress in Wolf of Wall Street kinda looked a bit like her, her face anyway. Kelly was still so young when she married Prince Rainier, some people said she left Hollywood before she had a chance to become a truly great actress.

  8. Paul S

    I’m always surprised whenever people review this masterpiece without mentioning the excellent support from Thelma Ritter. She’s my favourite Rear Window character too!

  9. Stu

    Great stuff! Glad you enjoyed this, it’s one of my favourite Hitchcock films and I love how the camera pans from one window to another. Great characters too. I am with you on the whole flashbulb thing…whenever I watch it I end up rolling my eyes!

    1. Yeah, the camera movement is quite unique here, great cinematography overall. Yeah, I think they really should call this a dark comedy as there are some truly hilarious stuff.

      1. Stu

        True! My favourite Hitchcock film probably isn’t his ‘best’ but I like North By Northwest a lot because of that. There’s a guy on the run and all this terrible stuff is happening but he’s still cracking jokes along the way.

  10. I haven’t this film in ages, probably saw it way back in 6th or 7th grade when one of my teachers would show us movies on Fridays. I remember liking it. There’s an episode of The Simpsons where it pay homage to this film, it’s when Bart was injured and couldn’t leave his room and he decided to spy on his neighbor Ned Flanders. It’s hilarious episode, that’s when The Simpsons show was still funny.

    1. Hi Irene. It’s a minor quibble though about the romance, it seems that Hitchcock isn’t that great in regards to filming the love story aspect in his films. Though in Spellbound I really like the love story between Peck & Bergman.

  11. This is among the many films of Alfred Hitchcock that I need to see as I’m planning a mini-marathon of his work for October as I feel like every film buff needs to see the classics by Hitch.

  12. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    A film full of secrets!

    The legends and tales of how Hitch set up the apartment buildings on an expanded sound stage for optimum camera coverage and vantage points. Also one of the great films for following the primers of film. Where the first images seen are the most important. Everything you need to know about the film is explained silently within its first three minute panning shot!

    Also an excellent choice for implied plot advancements, twists and never seen violence.

    1. Hello hello!! Miss you dahling. Yes this is one of Hitch’s best, glad I finally caught up w/ it. It’s more of a dark comedy than thriller, I didn’t expect that.

      1. Miss you too and of course as I was going on your site right now my computer froze I had to do a whole restart. Yes last week was hectic I had to go offsite, which means my days are long and tedious and I barely have working internet. Any who trying to play catch-up now! By the way I finally saw Birdman, you were right it was fantastic!!!!

        1. Ah geez, hate that when that happens!

          You poor thing! Where did you go? Do you travel a lot for your work? I was practically hyperventilating last Sat watching Black Sails 2 and I almost emailed you to vent, ahah. Toby’s soooo gorgeous in his Naval uniform, YUM!!

          1. OMG I want to see it, I am waiting for when Direct TV does a special with Starz, which should be soon, they usually offer it often. Yes please you can email to vent! lol

            I work as a contractor for the Navy, so when I am not in the office I have to go the Navy base, when I am there it’s time consuming and I don’t have much downtime to check phone or internet. Not to mention the connection over there is not great. But I am back in the office now so yay!

  13. Very nice review! Rear Window has been a favorite in my family since I was a kid. It’s one of our favorite suspense films, though I agree it has plenty of light moments throughout.

    1. I think the theme of voyeurism is kind of timeless and resonates w/ people as we at some point have been tempted to do this in some form or another.

    1. Thanks Mark! Yes Ritter was great, I actually like hers the most out of the other character. I don’t believe I’ve seen her in anything before.

  14. Fantastic write up Ruth! This is definitely one of my favourite Hitchcock films. I remember studying it at university and there’s an interesting suggestion that his leg in a cast represents castration anxiety. That’s university film studies for ya! Ha!

  15. Sorry I’m commenting so late but I couldn’t pass up commenting on a Hitchcock film 🙂
    I always feel a little bit guilty about not liking this film as much as I should. It’s a brilliant, brilliant film on a philosophic/psychological level, inspiring a lot of groundbreaking criticism, but I like it a lot more on that level than I do just as a piece of entertainment. This is definitely still in my top ten Hitch films, but it’s in the bottom half unfortunately. I like to read about it almost more than I like watching it! Not that it’s a struggle to watch or anything, but like you say it’s not quite as suspenseful as the best Hitchcock films are. I still love it though, without a doubt. Thelma Ritter is great in it, as usual, and I love it when Hitchcock gives the likable Jimmy Stewart the dark roles. He’s not as disturbing here as in Rope or Veritgo, but far more than The Man Who Knew Too Much. Hitchcock was so great at casting people in that light.
    Nice review Ruth! Glad to see you caught up with another Hitchcock film!

  16. Pingback: January 2015 Recap + Pick of Movie of the Month |

  17. Rear Window is one of those movies I’ve always wanted to see, but haven’t yet. I’m still coming up with my final picks for my Blindspot Series this year, so perhaps I’ll put it on there! 😀 Great review here, Ruth!

    1. Hi Kris! I’m slowly making my way to catching up w/ Hitchcock’s classics and this is one of his best. Hope you’ll get around to it soon.

  18. I LOVE this movie! I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I usually watch some of it when it’s on TV. It might be minimal on the thrills, but it never fails to draw me in. Glad you enjoyed it.

Join the conversation by leaving a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s